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World Cup finals line-up begins to take shape

By Mike Collett
© Reuters Limited

England, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Russia and Denmark secured their places in next year's World Cup finals on Saturday meaning 19 of the 32 finalists are now known.

European Play-offs between runners up
  Belgium v. Czech Republic
  Ukraine v. Germany
  Austria/Israel v. Turkey
  Slovenia v. Romania
1st match: 10/11 November 2001
Return match: 13/14 November 2001

While six countries were celebrating their success the European play-offs came into sharp focus with Ukraine facing three times champions Germany, the Czech Republic meeting Belgium and Slovenia playing Romania next month.

Turkey still await the identity of their play-off opponent as Israel's group seven match with Austria scheduled for Sunday was postponed because of security fears. Ireland, second behind Portugal in group two, face the winner of an Asian play-off.

The most dramatic game of the day was at Old Trafford, Manchester, where England skipper David Beckham scored with a free-kick in the dying seconds of injury time to give England a 2-2 draw with Greece and an automatic place in the finals at the expense of old rivals Germany.

Russian players celebrate after their victory over Switzerland after their European group one qualifying match in Moscow, October 6. Russia won the game 4-0 and qualified for the FIFA World Cup" finals.
Photo Grigory Dukor, Reuters
A group-by-group look at Saturday's action:

Group one
Russia, needing a win to make sure of their place in the finals, cruised past Switzerland 4-0 in Moscow with Vladimir Beschastnykh putting them on their way with a hat-trick inside 38 minutes. Yegor Titov added the fourth late in the game.

Slovenia avoided any slip-ups in beating the Faroe Islands 3-0 to clinch the playoff spot. Yugoslavia trounced Luxembourg 6-2 after surprisingly trailing 2-1 to the part-timers who finished the campaign beaten in all their 10 qualifiers.

Group two
Portugal beat Estonia 5-0 to reach the finals for the first time since 1986 with Nuno Gomes leading the charge with two headed goals. Luis Figo also got on the scoresheet as Portugal completed the formality of an easy victory.

Ireland could have finished top if Portugal had somewhow drawn or lost to Estonia, but in the end they were delighted with their 4-0 win over Cyprus and a guaranteed play-off against an Asian qualifier.

Portuguese players (from left to right) Simao Sabrosa, Jorge Costa and Luis Figo wave a national flag celebrating their victory and qualification for the World Cup finals.
Photo Jose Manual Ribeiro, Reuters
Niall Quinn had a 35th birthday to remember by setting a new all-time Irish international scoring record of 21 goals.

Already eliminated Netherlands beat Andorra 4-0.

Group three
Denmark crushed Iceland 6-0 in Copenhagen, the Czech Republic crushed Bulgaria 6-0 in Prague, but the Danes secured automatic qualification for the finals by winning the group.

The Czechs now face Belgium in the play-offs.

Group four
Turkey, who were already sure of second spot and a play-off berth against either Israel or Austria, beat Moldova 3-0 in Chisinau. Macedonia meet Slovakia and group winners Sweden play Azerbaijan on Sunday.

Group five
Poland, who had already clinched first place, were held to a 1-1 draw by Ukraine who secured a play-off against Germany.

Belarus, who started the day just a point behind Ukraine and could have finished second, lost 1-0 to Wales in Cardiff and had to be content with third spot. Norway beat Armenia 4-1 in the other game.

Group six

Croats Davor Suker (L) and Robert Jarni celebrate victory against Belgium in Zagreb on October 6.
Photo Nikola Solic, Reuters
Belgium started the day in top spot, but finished it in second place after losing 1-0 to Croatia who won the group to qualify for the finals. Alen Boksic scored the all-important goal 14 minutes from time.

Belgium will now play the Czech Republic in the play-offs. Scotland, who had to beat Latvia by six goals and hope Croatia lost to stannd any chance of finishing second, did beat Latvia, but only by 2-1 to finish third.

After the match Craig Brown, Scotland coach for the last eight years, said he was standing down.

Group seven
Israel's match against Austria to decide second place was postponed by FIFA on Thursday following the crash of a Russian jet that took off from Israel. The bottom two teams Bosnia and Liechtenstein meet on Sunday, Spain have already qualified.

Group eight

England captain David Beckham celebrates after drawing with Greece in their World Cup Group nine qualifying match at Old Trafford, Manchester October 6.
Photo Ian Hodgson, Reuters
Italy sealed their place in their 11th successive finals with a 1-0 win over Hungary in Parma thanks to a 45th minute goal from Alessandro D&el Piero.

That was enough for Italy to clinch first place on 20 points, four clear of Romania who were held to a 1-1 draw by Georgia and now face Slovenia in the playoffs.

Group nine
England could not have left it later to secure their place in the finals with Beckham's equalising free kick in the 2-2 draw with Greece coming in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

Greece, who had never beaten England, led twice through Angelos Charisteas (36) and Demis Nikolaidis (69), whose sweetly taken second for Greece came a minute after Teddy Sheringham had climbed off the substitutes' bench and within 10 seconds headed England level at 1-1.

Despite failing to win, England still qualified because Germany were held to a 0-0 draw in Gelsenkirchen by Finland.

England won the group on goal difference, while Germany now face a tough play-off against Ukraine.


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Efforts to achieve a standardised international football calendar have led to the official adoption of a schedule for the years 2002 to 2004.
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